California cranked out so much solar power this spring that wholesale electricity ran negative$

❝ The extraordinary success of solar power in some pockets of the world that combine sunshine with high investment in the technology mean that governments and energy companies are having radically to rethink the way they manage—and charge for—electricity.

California is one such a place.

❝ On March 11, it passed a milestone on the route to powering the whole state sustainably. For the first time, more than half the power needs of the entire state came from solar power for a few hours that day…

The power came from utility-scale solar photovoltaic farms, solar thermal plants, and the panels installed on private homes. Based on the data it collects, the EIA estimated that in each hour of peak times, that total capacity produced 4 million kWh of electricity on March 11…

❝ The spikes also have a big effect on wholesale energy prices, which dipped to zero or even to negative territory this spring during certain hours in California…That’s in sharp contrast to the same hours (8am to 2pm) in the month of March between 2013 and 2015, when average hourly wholesale prices ranged from $14-45 MWh.

Negative prices usually happen because there’s a glut of renewable energy, but non-renewable generators are also producing. They don’t shut them off completely because of the high costs of restarting.

California now accounts for a sizable chunk of the US market, having the highest energy demand of any state after Texas. It also has almost half of all the solar power in the US.

❝ This doesn’t mean, however, that Californians are paying nothing for their power because wholesale prices don’t translate directly into retail prices, which are based on averages, not single days. But it will mean energy companies start to rethink how they deliver and charge for electricity as the mix of renewables increases.

Unless, of course, you’re a public utility, fossil fuel producer or dimwit politician who hopes and prays that renewable power sources just disappear.

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